Friday, June 7, 2013

Future of Transportation

The United States Government needs to address the issue of the future of transportation and decide what a national system will look like.  As I see it, there are three choices: continue as we are until we run out of oil, move to electric or biofuels but maintain the current road infrastructure, or move to a system which involves investing in new infrastructure such as a dual-mode or guideway system.

The general consensus is that our current system is not sustainable.  Everyone agrees that oil production can not continue indefinitely, but nobody knows how long the supply will be available, or if they do know, they aren’t sharing the information.  I agree with the authors of Two Billion Cars, we need to move toward electric or biofuels made “from grasses, algae, trash, and crop waste (Sperling & Gordon, p.237). 
Technological developments are already progressing in this direction and a national system would add support for continued research and development.  It is easier to reach a goal when you know what the target is, and the government needs to decide on a target.  Companies don’t want to invest a lot of resources into something if they aren’t sure what the return on their investment will be.

The Two Billion Cars authors speak a lot about “carrots and sticks”.  I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement or “carrots”.  It is better to create circumstances that make people chose to do what is best rather than forcing them.  For this reason, I do not agree with the authors about the personal carbon account.  I look at the amount of people who can’t grasp our current money system which benefits them on a personal level; I don’t think they will remotely grasp the concept of a carbon system that benefits society as a whole.  I see a future carbon account as one more way for a limited few to benefit at the expense of many.  It will become one more way to separate the “haves” from the “have nots”, and just screams Big Brother is watching (Orwell). 

Rather than dictate how much a person can travel, we should work to design and create places that people don’t want to travel far away from, making smarter developments.  People generally want to do what is best, but there can be conflict.  Examples such as the Trimet bus that hits the homeless man, riding a bike because he couldn’t afford to ride the bus, the paratransit parked in the bike lane for fifteen minutes because they don’t want to block the resident’s driveway, the Prius that hits the high school student on her way to school in the morning, the PSU professor biking in the bus lane who gets honked at by an oncoming bus (1).  These are all example of how each individual thought he was doing something good for the environment on their own personal level, but it was at the detriment of another who was also saving the world one commute at a time.  With a national transportation policy encouraging smart development, we gain a better sense of community so accidents and incidences like this don’t need to occur.  We can have shorter commutes, giving us more patience to wait the few seconds for others, and gain a better understanding of how our decisions affect the greater community. 

Our current system of transportation encourages building a road system to accommodate cars. We expand and repair this system repeatedly as needed to appease drivers.  Eventually we will run out of the resources needed to continue paving over the country.  The answer seems obvious to me that we need to convince people that they don’t need to travel so many miles.  There needs to be a lifestyle change.  To me,
automobile travel is a bit like candy for a child.  It’s good in the instant, it’s cheap, and it seems to make
people happy so they want a lot.  Candy and sweets are not necessarily evil, but moderation is important for good health and other food options make better choices most of the time, It’s the parent’s responsibility to educate their children about healthy lifestyles.  Transportation should be viewed this way also.  There are other options available beyond solo travel in a personal vehicle and Uncle Sam needs to act as the parent by giving us the rules and guidelines to encourage us toward healthy choices, where driving becomes an occasional treat.  Driving moderation is what is needed instead of constant instant gratification.

MegaRail System
I do not know what a national policy for transportation should look like, but I think the dual-mode guideway concept (Schneider, Ehlig-Economides & Longbottom) is a better choice for the future.  There are arguments that it has a high initial investment for the new infrastructure, and we should continue to invest in our current system.  I would say in response, we can’t afford to not move to a new system.  The future holds an increase in population as well as an increase in cars.  We do not have the land necessary to continue to support the survival of that many people and transport them in a standard that they have become accustomed to.  The travel times desired, right of way necessary and maintenance concerns all need to be factored into the decision and our current methods do not appear to have long term feasibility.  We need to look beyond initial cost and convenience and base our decisions on long-term costs and benefits, and it needs to be done soon.


Two Billion Cars
By:  Daniel Sperling & Deborah Gordon
Published:  Oxford University Press, 2009

By:  George Orwell
Published:  The New American Library, 1949

(1) Personal observation within the past year noted for their irony.  Of the two accidents, the bicyclists sustained minor injuries and continue to bike with no apparent long term repercussions.  Trimet and the city have been informed that the assisted living address serviced with paratransit is actually the driveway that would be blocked if they parked on the side street, but they refuse to change the route.  The PSU professor was just trying to cross the street and merge with rush hour traffic.

Dual Mode Vehicle and Infrastructure Alternatives Analysis
By: Christine Ehlig-Economides and Jim Longbottom, April 2008.

Dualmode Transportation Concepts website:
Maintained By:  Jerry Schneider

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